The Trail to Yesterday
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The Trail to Yesterday


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Published 08 December 2010
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Language English
Project Gutenberg's The Trail to Yesterday, by Charles Alden Seltzer This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at
Title: The Trail to Yesterday Author: Charles Alden Seltzer Release Date: October 26, 2008 [EBook #27051] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE TRAIL TO YESTERDAY ***
Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Canada Team at
The Trail To Yesterday By Charles Alden Seltzer
Author of “The Two-Gun Man,” “The Coming of the Law ” , Etc.
ILLUSTRATIONS “If you want the parson to die, don’t look at
PAGE 11 40 53 72 88 111 121 146 163 196 215 233 254 275 303 310 323 336 344 359
me when he steps in.”Frontispiece “Won’t you please get us out of this?”134 Duncan grasped for his pistol, but the hand holding it was stamped violently into the earth.161
Many disquieting thoughts oppressed Miss Sheila Langford as she halted her pony on the crest of a slight rise and swept the desolate and slumberous world with an anxious glance. Quite the most appalling of these thoughts developed from a realization of the fact that she had lost the trail. The whole categorical array of inconveniences incidental to traveling in a new, unsettled country paled into insignificance when she considered this horrifying and entirely unromantic fact. She was lost; she had strayed from the trail, she was alone and night was coming. She would not have cared so much about the darkness, for she had never been a coward, and had conditions been normal she would have asked nothing better than a rapid gallop over the dim plains. But as she drew her pony up on the crest of the rise a rumble of thunder reached her ears. Of course it would rain, now that she had lost the trail, she decided, yielding to a sudden, bitter anger. It usually did rain when one was abroad without prospect of shelter; it always rained when one was lost. Well, there was no help for it, of course, and she had only herself to blame for the blunder. For the other—not unusual—irritating details that had combined to place her in this awkward position she could blame, first Duncan, the manager of the Double R—who should have sent someone to meet her at the station; the station agent—who had allowed her to set forth in search of the Double R without a guide,—though even now, considering this phase of the situation, she remembered that the agent had told her there was no one to send—and certainly the desolate appearance of Lazette had borne out this statement; and last, she could blame the country itself for being an unfeatured wilderness. Something might be said in extenuation of the station agent’s and the Double R manager’s sins of omission, but without doubt the country was what she had termed it—an unfeatured wilderness. Her first sensation upon getting a view of the country had been one of deep disappointment. There was plenty of it, she had decided,—enough to make one shrink from its very bigness; yet because it was different from the land she had been accustomed to she felt that somehow it was inferior. Her father had assured her of its beauty, and she had come prepared to fall in love with it, but within the last half hour—when she had begun to realize that she had lost the trail—she had grown to hate it. She hated the desolation, the space, the silence, the arid stretches; she had made grimaces at the “cactuses” with their forbidding pricklers—though she could not help admiring them, they seemed to be the only growing thing in the country capable of defying the heat and the sun. Most of all she hated the alkali dust. All afternoon she had kept brushing it off her clothing and clearing it out of her throat, and only within the last half hour she had begun to realize that her efforts had been without result—it lay thick all over her; her throat was dry and parched with it, and her eyes burned. She sat erect, flushed and indignant, to look around at the country. A premonitory calm had succeeded the warning rumble. Ominous black clouds were scurrying, wind-whipped, spreading fan-like through the sky, blotting out the colors of the sunset, darkening the plains, creating weird shadows. Objects that Sheila had been able to see quite distinctly when she had reined in her pony were no longer visible. She stirred uneasily. “We’ll go somewhere,” she said aloud to the pony, as she urged the animal down the slope. “If it rains we’ll get just as wet here as we would anywhere else.” She was surprised at the queer quiver in her voice. She was going to be brave, of course, but somehow there seemed to be little consolation in the logic of her remark. The pony shambled forward, carefully picking its way, and Sheila mentally thanked the station agent for providing her with so reliable a beast. There was one consoling fact at any rate, and she retracted many hard things she had said in the early part of her ride about the agent. Shuffling down the slope the pony struck a level. After traveling over this for a quarter of an hour Sheila became aware of an odd silence; looking upward she saw that the clouds were no longer in motion; that they were hovering, low and black, directly overhead. A flash of lightning suddenly illuminated the sky, showing Sheila a great waste of world that stretched to four horizons. It revealed, in the distance, the naked peaks of some hills; a few frowning buttes that seemed to fringe a river; some gullies in which lurked
forbidding shadows; clumps of desert growth—the cactus—now seeming grotesque and mocking; the snaky octilla; the filmy, rustling mesquite; the dust-laden sage-brush; the soap weed; the sentinel lance of the yucca. Then the light was gone and darkness came again. Sheila shuddered and vainly tried to force down a queer lump that had risen in her throat over the desolation of it all. It was not anything like her father had pictured it! Men had the silly habit of exaggerating in these things, she decided—they were rough themselves and they made the mistake of thinking that great, grim things were attractive. What beauty was there, for instance, in a country where there was nothing but space and silence and grotesque weeds—and rain? Before she could answer this question a sudden breeze swept over her; a few large drops of rain dashed into her face, and her thoughts returned to herself. The pony broke into a sharp lope and she allowed it to hold the pace, wisely concluding that the animal was probably more familiar with the country than she. She found herself wondering why she had not thought of that before—when, for example, a few miles back she had deliberately guided it out of a beaten trail toward a section of country where, she had imagined, the traveling would be better. No doubt she had strayed from the trail just there. The drops of rain grew more frequent; they splashed into her face; she could feel them striking her arms and shoulders. The pony’s neck and mane became moist under her hand, the darkness increased for a time and the continuing rumble in the heavens presaged a steady downpour. The pony moved faster now; it needed no urging, and Sheila held her breath for fear that it might fall, straining her eyes to watch its limbs as they moved with the sure regularity of an automaton. After a time they reached the end of the level; Sheila could tell that the pony was negotiating another rise, for it slackened speed appreciably and she felt herself settling back against the cantle of the saddle. A little later she realized that they were going down the opposite side of the rise, and a moment later they were again on a level. A deeper blackness than they had yet encountered rose on their right, and Sheila correctly decided it to be caused by a stretch of wood that she had observed from the crest of the rise where she had halted her pony for a view of the country. After an interval, during which she debated the wisdom of directing her pony into the wood for protection from the rain which was now coming against her face in vicious slants, her pony nickered shrilly! A thrill of fear assailed Sheila. She knew horses and was certain that some living thing was on the trail in front of her. Halting the pony, she held tightly to the reins through a short, tense silence. Then presently, from a point just ahead on the trail, came an answering nicker in the horse language. Sheila’s pony cavorted nervously and broke into a lope, sharper this time in spite of the tight rein she kept on it. Her fear grew, though mingling with it was a devout hope. If only the animal which had answered her own pony belonged to the Double R! She would take back many of the unkind and uncharitable things she had said about the country since she had lost the trail. The pony’s gait had quickened into a gallop—which she could not check. In the past few minutes the darkness had lifted a little; she saw that the pony was making a gradual turn, following a bend in the river. Then came a flash of lightning and she saw, a short distance ahead, a pony and rider, stationary, watching. With an effort she succeeded in reining in her own animal, and while she sat in the saddle, trembling and anxious, there came another flash of lightning and she saw the rider’s face. The rider was a cowboy. She had distinctly seen the leathern chaps on his legs; the broad hat, the scarf at his throat. Doubt and fear assailed her. What if the man did not belong to the Double R? What if he were a road agent—an outlaw? Immediately she heard an exclamation from him in which she detected much surprise and not a little amusement. “Shucks!” he said. “It’s a woman!” There came a slow movement. In the lifting darkness Sheila saw the man return a pistol to the holster that swung at his right hip. He carelessly threw one leg over the pommel of his saddle and looked at her. She sat very rigid, debating a sudden impulse to urge her pony past him and escape the danger that seemed to threaten. While she watched he shoved the broad brimmed hat back from his forehead. He was not over five feet distant from her; she could feel her pony nuzzling his with an inquisitive muzzle, and she could dimly see the rider’s face. It belonged to a man of probably twenty-eight or thirty; it had regular features, keen, level eyes and a firm mouth. There was a slight smile on his face and somehow the fear that had oppressed Sheila began to take flight. And while she sat awaiting the turn of events his voice again startled her: “I reckon you’ve stampeded off your range, ma’am?” A sigh of relief escaped Sheila. The voice was very gentle and friendly. “I don’t think that I have stampeded—whatever that means,” she returned, reassured now that the stranger gave promise of being none of the dire figures of her imagination; “I am lost merely. You see, I am looking for the Double R ranch.” “Oh,” he said inexpressively; “the Double R. There ensued a short silence and she could not see his face for he had bowed his head a little and the broad brimmed hat intervened. “Do you know where the Double R ranch is?” There was a slight impatience in her voice. “Sure,” came his voice. “It’s up the crick a ways.” “How far?” “Twenty miles.”
“Oh!” This information was disheartening. Twenty miles! And the rain was coming steadily down; she could feel it soaking through her clothing. A bitter, unreasoning anger against nature, against the circumstances which had conspired to place her in this position; against the man for his apparent lack of interest in her welfare, moved her, though she might have left the man out of it, for certainly he could not be held responsible. Yet his nonchalance, his serenity—something about him—irritated her. Didn’t he know she was getting wet? Why didn’t he offer her shelter? It did not occur to her that perhaps he knew of no shelter. But while her indignation over his inaction grew she saw that he was doing something—fumbling at a bundle that seemed to be strapped to the cantle of his saddle. And then he leaned forward—very close to her—and she saw that he was offering her a tarpaulin. “Wrap yourself in this,” he directed. “It ain’t pretty, of course, but it’ll keep you from getting drenched. Rain ain’t no respecter of persons.” She detected a compliment in this but ignored it and placed the tarpaulin around her shoulders. Then it suddenly occurred to her that he was without protection. She hesitated. “Thank you,” she said, “but I can’t take this. You haven’t anything for yourself.” A careless laugh reached her. “That’s all right; I don’t need anything.” There was silence again. He broke it with a question. “What are you figuring to do now?” What was she going to do? The prospect of a twenty-mile ride through a strange country in a drenching rain was far from appealing to her. Her hesitation was eloquent. “I do not know,” she answered, no way of escape from the dilemma presenting itself. “You can go on, of course,” he said, “and get lost, or hurt—or killed. It’s a bad trail. Or”—he continued, hesitating a little and appearing to speak with an effort—“there’s my shack. You can have that.” Then he did have a dwelling place. This voluntary information removed another of the fearsome doubts that had beset her. She had been afraid that he might prove to be an irresponsible wanderer, but when a man kept a house it gave to his character a certain recommendation, it suggested stability, more, it indicated honesty. Of course she would have to accept the shelter of his “shack.” There was no help for it, for it was impossible for her to entertain the idea of riding twenty miles over an unknown trail, through the rain and darkness. Moreover, she was not afraid of the stranger now, for in spite of his easy, serene movements, his quiet composure, his suppressed amusement, Sheila detected a note in his voice which told her that he was deeply concerned over her welfare—even though he seemed to be enjoying her. In any event she could not go forward, for the unknown terrified her and she felt that in accepting the proffered shelter of his “shack” she was choosing the lesser of two dangers. She decided quickly. “I shall accept—I think. Will you please hurry? I am getting wet in spite of this—this covering.” Wheeling without a word he proceeded down the trail, following the river. The darkness had abated somewhat, the low-hanging clouds had taken on a grayish-white hue, and the rain was coming down in torrents. Sheila pulled the tarpaulin tighter about her shoulders and clung desperately to the saddle, listening to the whining of the wind through the trees that flanked her, keeping a watchful eye on the tall, swaying, indistinct figure of her guide. After riding for a quarter of an hour they reached a little clearing near the river and Sheila saw her guide halt his pony and dismount. A squat, black shape loomed out of the darkness near her and, riding closer, she saw a small cabin, of the lean-to type, constructed of adobe bricks. A dog barked in front of her and she heard the stranger speak sharply to it. He silently approached and helped her down from the saddle. Then he led both horses away into the darkness on the other side of the cabin. During his absence she found time to glance about her. It was a desolate place. Did he live here alone? The silence brought no answer to this question, and while she continued to search out objects in the darkness she saw the stranger reappear around the corner of the cabin and approach the door. He fumbled at it for a moment and threw it open. He disappeared within and an instant later Sheila heard the scratch of a match and saw a feeble glimmer of light shoot out through the doorway. Then the stranger’s voice: “Come in.” He had lighted a candle that stood on a table in the center of the room, and in its glaring flicker as she stepped inside Sheila caught her first good view of the stranger’s face. She felt reassured instantly, for it was a good face, with lines denoting strength of character. The drooping mustache did not quite conceal his lips, which were straight and firm. Sheila was a little disturbed over the hard expression in them, however, though she had heard that the men of the West lived rather hazardous lives and she supposed that in time their faces showed it. It was his eyes, though, that gave her a fleeting glimpse of his character. They were blue—a steely, fathomless blue; baffling, mocking; swimming—as she looked into them now—with an expression that she could not attempt to analyze. One thing she saw in them only,—recklessness—and she drew a slow, deep breath. They were standing very close together. He caught the deep-drawn breath and looked quickly at her, his eyes alight and narrowed with an expression which was a curious mingling of quizzical humor and grim enjoyment. Her own eyes did not waver, though his were boring into hers steadily, as though he were trying to read her thoughts.
“Afraid?” he questioned, with a suggestion of sarcasm in the curl of his lips. Sheila stiffened, her eyes flashing defiance. She studied him steadily, her spirit battling his over the few feet that separated them. Then she spoke deliberately, evenly: “I am not afraid of you!” “That’s right.” A gratified smile broke on the straight, hard lips. A new expression came into his eyes —admiration. “You’ve got nerve, ma’am. I’m some pleased that you’ve got that much trust in me. You don’t need to be scared. You’re as safe here as you’d be out there.” He nodded toward the open door. “Safer,” he added with a grave smile; “you might get hurt out there.” He turned abruptly and went to the door, where he stood for a long time looking out into the darkness. She watched him for a moment and then removed the tarpaulin and hung it from a nail in the wall of the cabin. Standing near the table she glanced about her. There was only one room in the cabin, but it was large —about twenty by twenty, she estimated. Beside an open fireplace in a corner were several pots and pans —his cooking utensils. On a shelf were some dishes. A guitar swung from a gaudy string suspended from the wall. A tin of tobacco and a pipe reposed on another shelf beside a box of matches. A bunk filled a corner and she went over to it, fearing. But it was clean and the bed clothing fresh and she smiled a little as she continued her examination. The latter finished she went to a small window above the bunk, looking out into the night. The rain came against the glass in stinging slants, and watching it she found herself feeling very grateful to the man who stood in the doorway. Turning abruptly, she caught him watching her, an appraising smile on his face. “You ought to be hungry by now,” he said. “There’s a fireplace and some wood. Do you want a fire?” In response to her nod he kindled a fire, she standing beside the window watching him, noting his lithe, easy movements. She could not mistake the strength and virility of his figure, even with his back turned to her, but it seemed to her that there was a certain recklessness in his actions—as though his every movement advertised a careless regard for consequences. She held her breath when he split a short log into slender splinters, for he swung the short-handled axe with a loose grasp, as though he cared very little where its sharp blade landed. But she noted that he struck with precision despite his apparent carelessness, every blow falling true. His manner of handling the axe reflected the spirit that shone in his eyes when, after kindling the fire, he stood up and looked at her. “There’s grub in the chuck box,” he stated shortly. “There’s some pans and things. It ain’t what you might call elegant—not what you’ve been used to, I expect. But it’s a heap better than nothing, and I reckon you’ll be able to get along.” He turned and walked to the doorway, standing in it for an instant, facing out. “Good-night,” he added. The tarpaulin dangled from his arm. Evidently he intended going away. A sudden dread of being alone filled her. “Wait!” she cried involuntarily. “Where are you going?” He halted and looked back at her, an odd smile on his face. “To my bunk.” “Oh!” She could not analyze the smile on his face, but in it she thought she detected something subtle —untruthfulness perhaps. She glanced at the tarpaulin and from it to his eyes, holding her gaze steadily. “You are going to sleep in the open,” she said. He caught the accusation in her eyes and his face reddened. “Well,” he admitted, “I’ve done it before.” “Perhaps,” she said, a little doubtfully. “But I do not care to feel that I am driving you out into the storm. You might catch cold and die. And I should not want to think that I was responsible for your death.” “A little wetting wouldn’t hurt me.” He looked at her appraisingly, a glint of sympathy in his eyes. Standing there, framed in the darkness, the flickering light from the candle on his strong, grave face, he made a picture that, she felt, she would not soon forget. “I reckon you ain’t afraid to stay here alone, ma’am,” he said. “Yes,” she returned frankly, “I am afraid. I do not want to stay here alone. A pistol flashed in his hand, its butt toward her, and now for the first time she saw another at his hip. She repressed a desire to shudder and stared with dilated eyes at the extended weapon. “Take this gun,” he offered. “It ain’t much for looks, but it’ll go right handy. You can bar the door, too, and the window.” She refused to take the weapon. “I wouldn’t know how to use it if I had occasion to. I prefer to have you remain in the cabin—for protection.” He bowed. “I thought you’d—” he began, and then smiled wryly. “It certainly would be some wet outside,” he admitted. “It wouldn’t be pleasant sleeping. I’ll lay over here by the door when I get my blankets.” He went outside and in a few minutes reappeared with his blankets and saddle. Without speaking a word to Sheila he laid the saddle down, spread the blanket over it, and stretched himself out on his back. “I don’t know about the light,” he said after an interval of silence, during which Sheila sat on the edge of the bunk and regarded his profile appraisingly. “You can blow it out if you like.” “I prefer to have it burning.”
“Suit yourself.” Sheila got up and placed the candle in a tin dish as a precaution against fire. Then, when its position satisfied her she left the table and went to the bunk, stretching herself out on it, fully dressed. For a long time she lay, listening to the soft patter of the rain on the roof, looking upward at the drops that splashed against the window, listening to the fitful whining of the wind through the trees near the cabin. Her eyes closed presently, sleep was fast claiming her. Then she heard her host’s voice: “You’re from the East, I reckon.” “Yes.” “Where?” “New York.” “City?” “Albany.” There was a silence. Sheila was thoroughly awake again, and once more her gaze went to the window, where unceasing streams trickled down the glass. Whatever fear she had had of the owner of the cabin had long ago been dispelled by his manner which, though puzzling, hinted of the gentleman. She would have liked him better were it not for the reckless gleam in his eyes; that gleam, it seemed to her, indicated a trait of character which was not wholly admirable. “What have you come out here for?” Sheila smiled at the rain-spattered window, a flash of pleased vanity in her eyes. His voice had been low, but in it she detected much curiosity, even interest. It was not surprising, of course, that he should feel an interest in her; other men had been interested in her too, only they had not been men that lived in romantic wildernesses,—observe that she did not make use of the term “unfeatured,” which she had manufactured soon after realizing that she was lost—nor had they carried big revolvers, like this man, who seemed also to know very well how to use them. Those other men who had been interested in her had had a way of looking at her; there had always been a significant boldness in their eyes which belied the gentleness of demeanor which, she had always been sure, merely masked their real characters. She had never been able to look squarely at any of those men, the men of her circle who had danced attendance upon her at the social functions that had formerly filled her existence—without a feeling of repugnance. They had worn man-shapes, of course, but somehow they had seemed to lack something real and vital; seemed to have possessed nothing of that forceful, magnetic personality which was needed to arouse her sympathy and interest. Not that the man on the floor in front of the door interested her—she could not admit that! But she had felt a sympathy for him in his loneliness, and she had looked into his eyes—had been able to look steadily into them, and though she had seen expressions that had puzzled her, she had at least seen nothing to cause her to feel any uneasiness. She had seen manliness there, and indomitability, and force, and it had seemed to her to be sufficient. His would be an ideal face were it not for the expression that lingered about the lips, were it not for the reckless glint in his eyes—a glint that revealed an untamed spirit. His question remained unanswered. He stirred impatiently, and glancing at him Sheila saw that he had raised himself so that his chin rested in his hand, his elbow supported by the saddle. “You here for a visit?” he questioned. “Perhaps,” she said. “I do not know how long I shall stay. My father has bought the Double R.” For a long time it seemed that he would have no comment to make on this and Sheila’s lips took on a decidedly petulant expression. Apparently he was not interested in her after all. “Then Duncan has sold out?” There was satisfaction in his voice. “You are keen,” she mocked. “And tickled,” he added. His short laugh brought a sudden interest into her eyes. “Then you don’t like Duncan,” she said. “I reckon you’re some keen too,” came the mocking response. Sheila flushed, turned and looked defiantly at him. His hand still supported his head and there was an unmistakable interest in his eyes as he caught her glance at him and smiled. “You got any objections to telling me your name? We ain’t been introduced, you know?” he said. “It is Sheila Langford ” . She had turned her head and was giving her attention to the window above her. The fingers of the hand that had been supporting his head slowly clenched, he raised himself slightly, his body rigid, his chin thrusting, his face pale, his eyes burning with a sudden fierce fire. Once he opened his lips to speak, but instantly closed them again, and a smile wreathed them—a mirthless smile that had in it a certain cold caution and cunning. After a silence that lasted long his voice came again, drawling, well-controlled, revealing nothing of the emotion which had previously affected him. “What is your father’s name?” “David Dowd Lan ford. An uncommon middle name isn’t it?”
“Yes. Uncommon,” came his reply. His face, with the light of the candle gleaming full upon it, bore a queer pallor—the white of cold ashes. His right hand, which had been resting carelessly on the blanket, was now gripping it, the muscles tense and knotted. Yet after another long silence his voice came again—drawling, well-controlled, as before: “What is he coming out here for?” “He has retired from business and is coming out here for his health.” “What business was he in?” “Wholesale hardware.” He was silent again and presently, hearing him stir, Sheila looked covertly at him. He had turned, his back was toward her, and he was stretched out on the blanket as though, fully satisfied with the result of his questioning, he intended going to sleep. For several minutes Sheila watched him with a growing curiosity. It was like a man to ask all and give nothing. He had questioned her to his complete satisfaction but had told nothing of himself. She was determined to discover something about him. “Who are you?” she questioned. “Dakota,” he said shortly. “Dakota?” she repeated, puzzled. “That isn’t a name; it’s a State—or a Territory.” “I’m Dakota. Ask anybody.” There was a decided drawl in his voice. This information was far from being satisfactory, but she supposed it must answer. Still, she persisted. “Where are you from?” “Dakota.” That seemed to end it. It had been a short quest and an unsatisfactory one. It was perfectly plain to her that he was some sort of a rancher—at the least a cowboy. It was also plain that he had been a cowboy before coming to this section of the country—probably in Dakota. She was perplexed and vexed and nibbled impatiently at her lips. “Dakota isn’t your real name,” she declared sharply. “Ain’t it?” There came the drawl again. It irritated her this time. “No!” she snapped. “Well, it’s as good as any other. Good-night.” Sheila did not answer. Five minutes later she was asleep.
Sheila had been dreaming of a world in which there was nothing but rain and mud and clouds and reckless-eyed individuals who conversed in irritating drawls when a sharp crash of thunder awakened her. During her sleep she had turned her face to the wall, and when her eyes opened the first thing that her gaze rested on was the small window above her head. She regarded it for some time, following with her eyes the erratic streams that trickled down the glass, stretching out wearily, listening to the wind. It was cold and bleak outside and she had much to be thankful for. She was glad that she had not allowed the mysterious inhabitant of the cabin to sleep out in his tarpaulin, for the howling of the wind brought weird thoughts into her mind; she reflected upon her helplessness and it was extremely satisfying to know that within ten feet of her lay a man whose two big revolvers—even though she feared them—seemed to insure protection. It was odd, she told herself, that she should place so much confidence in Dakota, and her presence in the cabin with him was certainly a breach of propriety which —were her friends in the East to hear of it—would arouse much comment—entirely unfavorable to her. Yes, it was odd, yet considering Dakota, she was not in the least disturbed. So far his conduct toward her had been that of the perfect gentleman, and in spite of the recklessness that gleamed in his eyes whenever he looked at her she was certain that he would continue to be a gentleman. It was restful to lie and listen to the rain splashing on the roof and against the window, but sleep, for some unaccountable reason, seemed to grow farther from her—the recollection of events during the past few hours left no room in her thoughts for sleep. Turning, after a while, to seek a more comfortable position, she saw Dakota sitting at the table, on the side opposite her, watching her intently. “Can’t sleep, eh?” he said, when he saw her looking at him. “Storm bother you?” “I think it was the thunder that awakened me,” she returned. “Thunder alwa s does. Evidentl it disturbs ou
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too.” “I haven’t been asleep,” he said in a curt tone. He continued to watch her with a quiet, appraising gaze. It was evident that he had been thinking of her when she had turned to look at him. She flushed with embarrassment over the thought that while she had been asleep he must have been considering her, and yet, looking closely at him now, she decided that his expression was frankly impersonal. He glanced at his watch. “You’ve been asleep two hours,” he said. “I’ve been watching you—and envying you.” “Envying me? Why? Are you troubled with insomnia?” He laughed. “Nothing so serious as that. It’s just thoughts.” “Pleasant ones, of course.” “You might call them pleasant. I’ve been thinking of you.” Sheila found no reply to make to this, but blushed again. “Thinking of you,” repeated Dakota. “Of the chance you took in coming out here alone—in coming into my shack. We’re twenty miles from town here—twenty miles from the Double R—the nearest ranch. It isn’t likely that a soul will pass here for a month. Suppose——” “We won’t ‘suppose,’ if you please,” said Sheila. Her face had grown slowly pale, but there was a confident smile on her lips as she looked at him. “No?” he said, watching her steadily. “Why? Isn’t it quite possible that you could have fallen in with a sort of man— ” “As it happens, I did not,” interrupted Sheila. “How do you know?” Sheila’s gaze met his unwaveringly. “Because you are the man,” she said slowly. She thought she saw a glint of pleasure in his eyes, but was not quite certain, for his expression changed instantly. “Fate, or Providence—or whatever you are pleased to call the power that shuffles us flesh and blood mannikins around—has a way of putting us all in the right places. I expect that’s one of the reasons why you didn’t fall in with the sort of man I was going to tell you about,” said Dakota. “I don’t see what Fate has to do—” began Sheila, wondering at his serious tone. “Odd, isn’t it?” he drawled. “What is odd?” “That you don’t see. But lots of people don’t see. They’re chucked and shoved around like men on a chess board, and though they’re always interested they don’t usually know what it’s all about. Just as well too —usually.” “I don’t see——” He smiled mysteriously. “Did I say that I expected you to see?” he said. “There isn’t anything personal in this, aside from the fact that I was trying to show you that some one was foolish in sending you out here alone. Some day you’ll look back on your visit here and then you’ll understand.” He got up and walked to the door, opening it and standing there looking out into the darkness. Sheila watched him, puzzled by his mysterious manner, though not in the least afraid of him. Several times while he stood at the door he turned and looked at her and presently, when a gust of wind rushed in and Sheila shivered, he abruptly closed the door, barred it, and strode to the fireplace, throwing a fresh log into it. For a time he stood silently in front of the fire, his figure casting a long, gaunt shadow at Sheila’s feet, his gaze on her, grim, somber lines in his face. Presently he cleared his throat. “How old are you?” he said shortly. “Twenty-two.” “And you’ve lived East all your life. Lived well, too, I suppose—plenty of money, luxuries, happiness?” He caught her nod and continued, his lips curling a little. “Your father too, I reckon—has he been happy?” “I think so.” “That’s odd.” He had spoken more to himself than to Sheila and he looked at her with narrowed eyes when she answered. “What is odd? That my father should be happy—that I should?” “Odd that anyone who is happy in one place should want to leave that place and go to another. Maybe the place he went to wouldn’t be just right for him. What makes people want to move around like that?” “Perhaps you could answer that yourself,” suggested Sheila. “I am sure that you haven’t lived here in this part of the country all your life.” “How do you know that?” His gaze was quizzical and mocking.
“I don’t know. But you haven’t.” “Well,” he said, “we’ll say I haven’t. But I wasn’t happy where I came from and I came here looking for happiness—and something else. That I didn’t find what I was looking for isn’t the question—mostly none of us find the things we’re looking for. But if I had been happy where I was I wouldn’t have come here. You say your father has been happy there; that he’s got plenty of money and all that. Then why should he want to live here?” “I believe I told you that he is coming here for his health.” His eyes lighted savagely. But Sheila did not catch their expression for at that moment she was looking at his shadow on the floor. How long, how grotesque, it seemed, and forbidding—like its owner. “So he’s got everything he wants but his health. What made him lose that?” “How should I know?” “Just lost it, I reckon,” said Dakota subtly. “Cares and Worry?” “I presume. His health has been failing for about ten years.” Sheila was looking straight at Dakota now and she saw his face whiten, his lips harden. And when he spoke again there was a chill in his voice and a distinct pause between his words. “Ten years,” he said. “That’s a long time, isn’t it? A long time for a man who has been losing his health. And yet——” There was a mirthless smile on Dakota’s face—“ten years is a longer time for a man in good health who hasn’t been happy. Couldn’t your father have doctored—gone abroad—to recover his health? Or was his a mental sickness?” “Mental, I think. He worried quite a little.” Dakota turned from her, but not quickly enough to conceal the light of savage joy that flashed suddenly into his eyes. “Why!” exclaimed Sheila, voicing her surprise at the startling change in his manner; “that seems to please you!” “It does.” He laughed oddly. “It pleases me to find that I’m to have a neighbor who is afflicted with the sort of sickness that has been bothering me for—for a good many years.” There was a silence, during which Sheila yawned and Dakota stood motionless, looking straight ahead. “You like your father, I reckon?” came his voice presently, as his gaze went to her again. “Of course.” She looked up at him in surprise. “Why shouldn’t I like him?” “Of course you like him. Mostly children like their fathers.” “Children!” She glared scornfully at him. “I am twenty-two! I told you that before!” “So you did, he returned, unruffled. “When is he coming out here?” “In a month—a month from to-day.” She regarded him with a sudden, new interest. “You are betraying a great deal of curiosity,” she accused. “Why?” “Why,” he answered slowly, “I reckon that isn’t odd, is it? He’s going to be my neighbor, isn’t he?” “Oh!” she said with emphasis of mockery which equalled his. “And you are gossiping about your neighbor  even before he comes.” “Like a woman,” he said with a smile. “An impertinent one,” she retorted. “Your father,” he said in accents of sarcasm, ignoring the jibe, “seems to think a heap of you—sending you all the way out here alone.” “I came against his wish; he wanted me to wait and come with him.” Her defense of her parent seemed to amuse him. He smiled mysteriously. “Then he likes you?” “Is that strange? He hasn’t any one else—no relative. I am the only one.” “You’re the only one.” He repeated her words slowly, regarding her narrowly. “And he likes you. I reckon he’d be hurt quite a little if you had fallen in with the sort of man I was going to tell you about. “Naturally.” Sheila was tapping with her booted foot on his shadow on the floor and did not look at him. “It’s a curious thing,” he said slowly, after an interval, “that a man who has got a treasure grows careless of it in time. It’s natural, too. But I reckon fate has something to do with it. Ten chances to one if nothing happens to you your father will consider himself lucky. But suppose you had happened to fall in with a different man than me—we’ll say, for instance, a man who had a grudge against your father—and that man didn’t have that uncommon quality called ‘mercy.’ What then? Ten chances to one your father would say it was fate that had led you to him. “I think,” she said scornfully, “that you are talking silly! In the first place, I don’t believe my father thinks that I am a treasure, though he likes me very much. In the second place, if he does think that I am a treasure, he is very much mistaken, for I am not—I am a woman and quite able to take care of myself. You have exhibited a wonderful curiosity over my father and me, and though it has all been mystifying and entertaining, I don’t purpose to talk to you all night.”
“I didn’t waken you,” he mocked. Sheila swung around on the bunk, her back to him. “You are keeping me awake,” she retorted. “Well, good night then,” he laughed, “Miss Sheila.” “Good night, Mr.—Mr. Dakota,” she returned. Sheila did not hear him again. Her thoughts dwelt for a little time on him and his mysterious manner, then they strayed. They returned presently and she concentrated her attention on the rain; she could hear the soft, steady patter of it on the roof; she listened to it trickling from the eaves and striking the glass in the window above her head. Gradually the soft patter seemed to draw farther away, became faint, and more faint, and finally she heard it no more.
It was the barking of a dog that brought Sheila out of a sleep—dreamless this time—into a state of semi-consciousness. It was Dakota’s dog surely, she decided sleepily. She sighed and twisted to a more comfortable position. The effort awakened her and she opened her eyes, her gaze resting immediately on Dakota. He still sat at the table, silent, immovable, as before. But now he was sitting erect, his muscles tensed, his chin thrust out aggressively, his gaze on the door—listening. He seemed to be unaware of Sheila’s presence; the sound that she had made in turning he apparently had not heard. There was an interval of silence and then came a knocking on the door—loud, unmistakable. Some one desired admittance. After the knock came a voice: “Hello inside!” “Hello yourself!” Dakota’s voice came with a truculent snap. “What’s up?” “Lookin’ for a dry place,” came the voice from without. “Mebbe you don’t know it’s wet out here!”  Sheila’s gaze was riveted on Dakota. He arose and noiselessly moved his chair back from the table and she saw a saturnine smile on his face, yet in his eyes there shone a glint of intolerance that mingled oddly with his gravity. “You alone?” he questioned, his gaze on the door. “Yes ” . “Who are you?” “Campbellite preacher.” For the first time since she had been awake Dakota turned and looked at Sheila. The expression of his face puzzled her. “A parson!” he sneered in a low voice. “I reckon we’ll have some praying now.” He took a step forward, hesitated, and looked back at Sheila. “Do you want him in here?” Sheila’s nod brought a whimsical, shallow smile to his face. “Of course you do—you’re lonesome in here. There was mockery in his voice. He deliberately drew out his two guns, examined them minutely, returned one to his holster, retaining the other in his right hand. With a cold grin at Sheila he snuffed out the candle between a finger and a thumb and strode to the door—Sheila could hear him fumbling at the fastenings. He spoke to the man outside sharply. “Come in!” There was a movement; a square of light appeared in the wall of darkness; there came a step on the threshold. Watching, Sheila saw, framed in the open doorway, the dim outlines of a figure—a man. “Stand right there,” came Dakota’s voice from somewhere in the impenetrable darkness of the interior, and Sheila wondered at the hospitality that greeted a stranger with total darkness and a revolver. “Light a match. After a short interval of silence there came the sound of a match scratching on the wall, and a light flared up, showing Sheila the face of a man of sixty, bronzed, bearded, with gentle, quizzical eyes. The light died down, the man waited. Sheila had forgotten—in her desire to see the face of the visitor—to look for Dakota, but presently she heard his voice: “I reckon you’re a parson, all right. Close the door.” The parson obeyed the command. “Light the candle on the table!” came the order from Dakota. “I’m not taking any chances until I get a better look at you.” Another match flared up and the parson advanced to the table and lighted the candle. He smiled while a l in the match to the wick. “Don’t a to take no chances—on an thin ” he a reed. He stood erect a